What Starbucks’ Red Cups Can Teach You About Evolving Your Brand’s Offerings


Starbucks has brought back their beloved red coffee cups — with a twist. This holiday season, the cups have been redesigned as “color-in” holiday cups. Splashes of the signature red and green can still be spotted in the design, but the customer gets to color in illustrations of gifts, clasped hands, and Christmas trees on the mostly white cup and personalize it to make it their own.

These cups are unusual in that nobody walks into a Starbucks and purchases a sleeve of them as a stand-alone product, yet they continue to draw attention and drive sales every year from consumers throughout the world. It might not seem like it, but the red cups are great lessons in keeping your brand’s offerings fresh and anticipated especially during the holiday season. Take a sip and see for yourself what I mean.


Every year brings a new cup — and that’s a great thing

Since 2009, Starbucks has switched up the look of their red holiday cups ranging from almost entirely all-red (2015) to the aforementioned almost all white color-in design this year. In turn, the yearly changes have received mixed responses from critics and their fan base. Complaints can register from not being “Christmas-y enough” to being too boring or critical of the design chosen.

What’s a business to do when this happens? More often than not, the idiom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is applied with companies making little to no changes to their bestselling products. However, the red cups serve as more of a packaging attraction during the holidays. Likewise, it’s key for brands to offer packaging that is reflective of the times in order to stay relevant. Gift wrapping a product at a department store today varies greatly from how it might have looked years ago. Back then, prints and loud colors might have been in, and now the design aesthetic has shifted to reflect a more rustic, down to earth look. Love it or hate it, the red cup redesigns are created with this fan base, as well as the current cultural landscape, in mind.


Red cup = it’s officially the holiday season

We tend to instantly know what season it is when certain products take center stage at a business. At Starbucks, the release of the pumpkin spice latte means fall has (for the most part, anyway) begun. The same goes for their packaging, which switches over to the red cups the day after Halloween. Because the cups are such a mainstay with consumers, we have been hardwired to recognize that red cups in store means it’s officially the holidays. The change in packaging affects the mood of the consumer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, which lends to more festive feelings all around, and allows consumers to begin prepping for the season to come including shopping at your business. Picking up their first latte of the holiday season is just one of the ways they share the joy and it’s all thanks to a red cup.


Putting creativity into the hands of the consumer

This year, the commercial for the color-in cups emphasizes that the holiday season means something different to everyone. For the first time in the red cup’s history, fans can get creative with the brand. Nothing showcases this as nicely as social media sites do, where colored-in red cups are spotted and tagged with the Starbucks social handles. By allowing customers to color in the cup any way they like — from a traditional holiday palette to a ty-dye rainbow masterpiece — Starbucks is putting the power in the customer to take an ordinary cup and make it their own definition of merry and bright.




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